As experts race to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 by encouraging vaccinations and mask wearing, hospital systems in a handful of states are now straining to keep up with the surge.
Eight states, many of which have lagged the national average for vaccinations, have Covid-19 patients that account for at least 15% of their overall hospitalizations: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Texas, according to a CNN analysis of data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Of all Covid-19 hospitalizations, these eight states’ combined totals make up approximately 51% of patients, though the states account for only around 24% of the nation’s population, according to Census data.
The percentages of Covid-19 patients in ICUs are even worse, with Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi approaching half of ICU beds in use for such patients, HHS data from Thursday show.
Louisiana and Mississippi each announced on Thursday their highest number of Covid-19 hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic.
In Florida, Brevard County officials issued an urgent plea this week for residents to try to avoid using ambulance services for nonemergency calls or going to hospitals for Covid-19 tests.
“Hospital emergency rooms are inundated with patients with symptoms of Covid-19,” according to Brevard County Emergency Director John Scott. All three hospital systems in the county are over capacity and continue to deal with a surge in patients, which creates safety concerns for other emergencies such as traffic crash-related trauma patients or heart attack victims.
First responders and departments are feeling the effects of the Delta coronavirus variant surge throughout the country.
In Memphis, emergency departments are overworked due to the pandemic, with August having the potential to be the busiest month in the history of the city’s fire department, Fire Chief Gina Sweat said.
And Chief Medical Officer Dr. Geoff Lifferth at Sumner Regional Medical Center in Gallatin, Tennessee, said the hospital had no more open beds. “As an ER doc and a healthcare administrator, this past week has been one of the most exhausting and disheartening of my career,” he said in an emotional Facebook post.
In Wisconsin, Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary in the state’s health department, warned Thursday that the state could experience a crisis similar to the one happening now in Florida.
“With this surge, we’re a few weeks behind our Southern states. What we’re seeing happen in Florida could happen. Wisconsin has a similar vaccination rate to Florida, and Covid-19 cases are reaching an all-time high in Florida, and their health care systems are overwhelmed,” Van Dijk said.
“We find ourselves in a situation that we hoped was in the past — we risk our hospital systems being overwhelmed, again, just as they were last November.”
Health officials continue to stress that widespread vaccinations are needed to temper the effects of the surge in the weeks ahead.
“Of the nearly 1,500 now in a hospital for Covid-19, more than 1,300 are unvaccinated,” the Mississippi Department of Health said on Thursday.
More than 99.99% of people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death, according to a CNN analysis of CDC data. Of the more than 164 million people in the US fully vaccinated as of August 2, fewer than 0.001% of those individuals — 1,507 people — died from Covid-19.
About three-quarters of all reported breakthrough cases were among seniors age 65 or older. Of the people who died, 1 in 5 passed away from something other than Covid-19, even though they had a breakthrough case of the virus, according to the CDC.
With the efficacy of vaccines demonstrated, the FDA on Thursday authorized an additional third dose to be administered to people with compromised immune systems.
“The country has entered yet another wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the FDA is especially cognizant that immunocompromised people are particularly at risk for severe disease,” Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement. “After a thorough review of the available data, the FDA determined that this small, vulnerable group may benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna Vaccines.”
Around 59.2% of all Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 50.4% are fully vaccinated as of Thursday, according to the CDC.